03/09/2020

๐Ÿฐ Maid Of Sker | Review | “Calon Lan Has Never Been So Ominous” ๐Ÿฐ @WalesInter #IndieGames #GameDev

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Maid Of Sker is a first-person stealth-horror title set in the late 1800s featuring some of the best audio work I’ve come across in the genre, Maid of Sker is a solid and spooky title based on a folkloric, Welsh tale.
As Thomas Evans, you arrive at the borders of the rural and seemingly abandoned Sker Hotel in search of your partner, Elizabeth, who has sent a letter asking for you to come urgently to her aid somewhere on Sker’s mysterious, foggy grounds.

The first half of the game was very much the stronger section for me, personally. Making your way from the rundown train station, through the craggy landscape whilst witnessing some oddities along the way, sets the scene quite well. 

I did notice an odd visual effect whereby moving past objects – such as doors and fences - when close-up leaves a sort of ghostly, LCD-bleed effect but in this case, it does work as it gives everything a dream-like quality.

Everything up to the two-hour mark comes across as a really tasty walking simulator and was the part of the game that grabbed me. Upon entering the hotel, you get a call on one of the telephones scattered throughout from Elizabeth, who fills you in on what needs to be done. 

Effectively, she is locked in the attic and being hunted by some beings that wander the hotel and you need to collect four musical cylinders  - which are scattered around the various floors and grounds -for an as-yet-unknown purpose. 
Thomas is an oddly silent protagonist and, although you can select dialogue boxes during the one-way conversations with Elizabeth, it feels redundant as you have to select all of the responses anyway in order to move on in the game. 

Thomas’ stoic silence (beyond the occasional cough) comes across as a marked disinterest in the spooky goings-on around him. That aside, this early part of the game has some really nice moments in both set pieces and moment-to-moment exploration.

Finally, I get to talk about what is clearly the high watermark of the game which is the audio design. The hotel is pregnant with eeriness. The sounds of knocking pipes, creaking floorboards and distant music – a mix of discordant, ethereal and aching beauty – which act as the soundtrack blend perfectly with actual in-game effects such as the sounds of Thomas’ own footsteps as well as the enemies’ to create a mood that is constantly unsettling.

As you wander around the hotel, picking up items such as collectables, notes, keys and listening to the gramophone recordings that act as save points, you’ll find yourself solving relatively simple puzzles and getting to know the history of both the hotel and the people that have populated it over the years, namely Elizabeth’s family. After a couple of hours of this spooky yet serene part of the game, the more tangible horror elements set in.
The main enemies of the game are known as ‘The Quiet Ones’.Seemingly blind, cloth-masked figures that are introduced and roam the hallways. Whilst in the later game you do get an item that can stun these enemies – again, linked to the singing/music motif that threads through the story – for a great deal of time you are effectively unarmed, your only defence is to hold your breath when passing them or when they wander to close to you in the often confined spaces and hallways of the hotel. 

These figures multiply as the game goes on and lead to some of the most frustrating moments as the game switches tone from one of exploration and intrigue to a style where progress feels incremental as you crouch, waiting for slow-moving enemies to pass, hoping they don’t bump into you in the narrow passages. 

I can imagine that some players will find that this opens up the gameplay and ramps up the tension but for me, it took away the building suspense and turned the main enemy from a handful of creepy, lurking horrors into points of repetitive tedium.
In summary, I really like the setting and first half of Maid of Sker but, instead of building on that solid foundation of escalating creepiness and carefully-crafted set pieces, it feels like it focuses on the more mundane aspects of the genre in the later sections. 

Horror fans of a more folkloric bent who enjoy titles such as Amnesia, A Machine for Pigs and the like will be at home here but those who want more instant gratification from their horror may find Maid of Sker a little too deliberately-paced for their tastes.
๐Ÿ’ง❄️ RATING: MELTING ❄️๐Ÿ’ง

Ratings Explained
ICE COOL (Great Game Recommended)
MELTING (Recommended with reservations, one to consider if you are a fan of the genre)

MELTED (Not A Recommended Purchase)

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